In my work as a marriage and family therapist, I often interact with spouses who are having a very difficult time forgiving their partner for the years of pornography use and other sexual addiction behaviors. A spouse legitimately feels anger, betrayal, confusion, inadequacy and self-doubt, and many other powerful emotions. If not handled in a healthy and productive way, these emotions can become toxic, damaging the health and well-being of the spouse who harbors them, and driving a wedge into the relationship.
In my more than 30 years of counseling, the most effective healing agent for this situation is forgiveness. However, I find that many people don’t understand what forgiveness means or exactly how to go through the process. Here are some helpful guidelines based on success with thousands of couples.
What Forgiveness Is and Is Not
Let’s assume you are the wife of a pornography addict. First of all, there are some things that forgiveness is NOT:
It’s OK, I forgive you, now let’s forget it.
He is getting away with it
He can do it again
He is sorry or repentant
Forgiveness is about freeing yourself of the burden of negative emotions and energy. It is about letting go of the bitterness, anger and frustration, and replacing these with gratitude for your own gifts, talents and blessings; your own innate worth. Also, gratitude for the good and positive things about your spouse that are not related to his addiction. Forgiveness is about proactively moving forward as apposed to being stuck in the past and rehashing old negative emotions over and over again. You forgive him for what he has done to you. Dealing with his addiction, his poor choices and reconciling all of this with God or the universe is his task, not yours. His addition is NOT your fault or your responsibility to resolve. Forgiving him is about your peace of mind and lifting a burden from your shoulders. Forgiveness also opens the way for you to be a healthy support and partner in his recovery, if that is the path he wants to take.
How to Forgive>
Be Sincere and forgive ALOUD. To be more effective you need to hear yourself say the words.
Be Specific as to who you are forgiving and why.
Present Tense put your forgiveness statement in the present tense. “I FORGIVE” rather than, “I can forgive, I will forgive, I’d like to forgive, I should forgive or I need to forgive.”
Three Parts of Forgiving
1. Forgive them for what they did to you “I forgive you for lying to me.”
2. Replace with gratitude “I am thankful for your honesty with me now.”
3. Do something about it!
a. “Let’s talk about your being honest with me. I want to trust you, but you have to be open with me. How can we work on that?”
b. “If you continue to lie, I can’t trust you. We can build trust as you tell me the truth.”
c. “That’s enough; obviously you don’t want this relationship to work.”
Forgiveness is a powerful force for good! When done properly, it brings remarkable peace of mind and freedom. Implement it in your life and the results will astound you!